Photo by Scott Boldt
Oregon Football

Player Spotlight: CJ Verdell

June 1, 2020
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CJ Verdell may not be viewed in the same light as some of Oregon's other great running backs, but he has been incredibly productive. Week in and week out, Verdell puts his body on the line for his team.

As a redshirt freshman in 2018, Verdell came out of the gates blazing. In his first six games, he exceeded 100 yards four times.

Clearly, the most notable game in that stretch was when Verdell rushed 29 times for 111 yards and 2 touchdowns against Washington – including the game-winner in overtime. It’s a highlight that we’ll see replayed for the rest of our lives, as the fans stormed Rich Brooks Field after knocking off the seventh-ranked Huskies.

The ESPN 4-star clearly has always had talent, but what sticks out the most is his willingness to put his head down, initiate contact and plow for a couple of extra yards. He almost never shies away from a hit, and that’s not something you see out of every team's starting running back.

The freshman's next five games were tough, as he rushed 68 times for just 257 yards and 2 touchdowns. Perhaps not coincidentally, Oregon dropped three of those five games. But Verdell managed to strong on a big stage: the 2018 Civil War.

I’ve seen some dominating performances from the Ducks over the years, but the 2018 Civil War is one of the more impressive. The Oregon offensive line absolutely dominated the Beavers, springing Verdell 187 yards on 23 carries and 4 touchdowns.

Verdell finished 1 touchdown shy of the Oregon single-game record, held by Saladin McCullough and Kenjon Barner. All-time leading rusher Royce Freeman scored 4 TDs three times in his career, and Freeman and Verdell are the only ones to do it as freshmen.

Verdell didn’t do a lot in the Redbox Bowl, but few players did in the 7-6 win over Michigan State. Verdell wound up with 1,018 rushing yards on 5 yards per carry, with 12 total touchdowns.

The Chula Vista (Calif.) native became just the third Oregon freshman to rush for 1,000 yards, joining LaMichael James and Freeman in that elite club. It may not have been consistent, but Verdell clearly showed that he can be the team's bell cow.

That early success led to big expectations for Verdell. Oregon fans clearly were hoping Verdell could join Freeman, James and Jonathan Stewart in the pantheon of recent rushing greats. And I remember watching him in fall practice; he just looked like a different player. He'd gotten into great shape, and I was so optimistic about the coming season.

However, the first five games of that season didn't meet those expectations. Verdell ran the ball just 64 times for 277 yards and 2 touchdowns. He was battling injuries, and his yards per carry dropped to just 4.33. 

Verdell finally got things going against Colorado, breaking out for a 171-yard showcase that included a monstrous 70-yard run. Verdell had a quiet game against Washington before having what I believe will be remembered as the game of his career.

Verdell ran the ball just 23 times against Washington State, but he amassed an incredible 257 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also caught 4 passes for 56 yards, meaning he touched the ball 27 times for 303 yards.

What's more, he averaged an incredible 11.22 yards per touch, and that played a huge role in Oregon eking out a 37-35 win. The 257 rushing yards tied for the fourth-most in program history, behind Kenyon Barner, James and Onterrio Smith; James also had 257 yards in an unforgettable 2010 matchup with Stanford.

The final four regular season games were a bit quiet for Verdell, for multiple reasons. He was banged up, and the coaches gave him just 50 carries. Then came the Pac-12 Championship, and the reduced workload paid off.

Verdell had another incredible game, finishing with 208 yards on just 18 carries with 3 touchdowns – including the first score of the game and a 70-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that put Oregon up by two scores. Verdell punctuated the victory with a 31-yard touchdown with just over 3 minutes left.

In the Rose Bowl, Verdell had 17 carries for 49 yards – not great, but enough to help Oregon win. Verdell ended the year with 1,220 yards and 8 touchdowns.

The sophomore's yards per carry took a big jump: from 5.0 to 6.2. I realize that his success began with the offensive line, but after reviewing the season, I found he actually created a lot more yards for himself than I initially remembered.

Some fans might credit much of Verdell's success to the offensive line, and there were numerous times that gaping holes just opened up for him. But I’d challenge the thought that he didn’t play a big role in his own success. Go back and watch the 2019 Pac-12 Championship Game; Verdell turned a lot of small gains into chunk plays.

Verdell runs so incredibly hard, and that makes a player easy to love. I know his highlights aren't always as electrifying as a James or a De'Anthony Thomas, but Verdell has been an absolute rock for this team over the past two seasons.

I can’t wait to see what 2020 has in store.

Tags: Football, Oregon
 
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